Protect Your Eyes Year-Round with Sunglasses

Quick quiz. Wearing sunglasses makes you feel like which of the following:
  1. Like a rock star (autograph, anyone?).
  2. Like someone with a secret to hide.
  3. Like my head's stuck in a welder's mask.
  4. Like, who cares? I'm just protecting my eyes!

Although sunglasses have gained fame as a fashion accessory, their primary job is to keep your eyes safe for the lifetime you'll rely on them.  Eye protection not only prevents immediate pain from bright light, but also reduces risk of serious long-term damage and disease.

Pulling on a pair of shades can be as soothing as taking a dip in a cool pool in the summertime. But when winter weather rolls around, how many people pack away their sunglasses as though glare takes holiday?

Sunglasses are a year-round requirement for good eye care. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation doesn't retire with colder months and return as summer heats up. When we're outside, harmful UV rays are stalking us. Our best defense is to keep our eyes under cover.

Sun bouncing off water, sand, snow, pavement, or other reflective surfaces can be abusing our eyes without us realizing the injury — until we develop grim consequences. Cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye, can begin and build over years of exposure to direct sunlight. Those ever-present UV rays can also cause distressing inflammation of the cornea (photokeratitis), temporary loss of vision from looking into mirror-like surface of snow or ice (snow blindness), progressive loss of vision from macular degeneration; and numerous forms of sight-stealing eye cancers.

Eye damage starts early in life, so even the youngest of kids should be outfitted with a decent pair of sunglasses. Styles, colors, sizes, and prices are all over the map; choosing a good pair just means listening to your style sense and looking for a label that says the lenses block UV rays — preferably 99-100%.

The popularity of sunglasses as a fashion statement has opened the marketplace to street vendors and flea market sales of fancy frames with inferior UV protection. Stick to a trusted store or online source for purchase of your specs (sometimes referred to as dark glasses — for their obvious attributes).

If you wear regular glasses with corrective lenses, you can turn out the bright lights while protecting your eyes by buying clip-on shades (not nearly as geeky as they may sound — stylish clip-ons do exist). Some glass frames are sold as a set with tailor-made sunglasses that attach to the lenses with barely detectable clips. Other models feature cleverly designed magnets to hold the sunglasses in place over your prescription glasses.

Your eye doctor may suggest that you invest in a pair of glasses with permanently dark-tinted lens, which you can trade off with your regular glasses when you go out in the sun. You also can consider photochromic lens that respond to the amount of UV light they're exposed to by going from clear (like your regular glasses) to dark (voila — sunglasses!).

Eye care professionals can size up your specific needs and give you a rundown of eye protection options. Whatever you choose for your eyeglass wardrobe, remember to make sunglasses your year-round companion!